New York Magazine


Inside Man
  Release Date: 03/24/06 (Future Release)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: (R)
  Suspense/Thriller, Drama
  Running Time
  129 min
  Universal Pictures
Official Website
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The normally subversive Spike Lee takes a rare genial tack in Inside Man, a project that must be intended to give him more Hollywood street (or boulevard) cred. This is a leisurely, smoothly made and very pleasant hostage picture—and if my criticism is implicit in that description, I found myself savoring a thriller (as well as a Spike Lee “joint”) that wasn’t, for a change, in my face.

Clive Owen plays a coolly deliberate robber who, with a small posse of masked gunmen, seizes a Wall Street bank but seems strangely indifferent to the vault’s immense stacks of bills. What’s his game? Could it have anything to do with a mysterious safe-deposit box owned by the pillar-of-society chairman (Christopher Plummer), who hires his own high-priced consultant (Jodie Foster) to open an underground channel with the thieves? The police negotiator (Denzel Washington) studies the situation like a chess grandmaster and holds off making contact with the heist leader. “I’m not callin’ him yet,” he murmurs. “Doesn’t feel right . . . yet.” Neither he nor the picture is in any hurry.

For all the hop in his technique, Lee’s films rarely have a lot of momentum. He’s always ready to distend the narrative with bits of local (in this case, interracial) color and moody tracking shots. Here, the limpid score by Terence Blanchard is like a Bond soundtrack slowed down and reorchestrated by Elmer Bernstein: delightful, armchair stuff. And even if Owen’s robber is not too squeamish to pistol-whip a bureaucrat who tries to conceal a cell phone, he doesn’t appear to have the sociopathic chops. The addition of tricky flash-forwards featuring Washington and his partner (that charismatic chameleon Chiwetel Ejiofor) interrogating former hostages tips you off that, at the very least, an all-out massacre is not in the cards.

Foster’s sleekly confident fixer is memorable only as a change of pace: Without evident emotional investment or vulnerability, she’s not particularly vivid. But Owen and Washington are endlessly delightful enigmas. Washington, with his head shaved, is so casual that he borders on goofy; he’s almost Brando-weird. But nobody is slumming in Inside Man, least of all Lee. After pugnaciously leading with his integrity for more than two decades, maybe he even enjoyed making an impersonal heist picture. I can see all the studio heads reaching for their phones when they realize the movie’s real bad guy was once beastly to the Jews: “Spike—wassup, dog! Have I got a project for you!”— Reviewed by David Edelstein, New York Magazine